Time for another Nightmare Review as well as the fourth installment of my ongoing Nightmare Campaign! I am now up to The Ring Goes South in my Nightmare Campaign. This quest features not only the famous Council of Elrond which results in the creation of the fellowship, but also the Fellowship’s initial journey out of Imladris and South towards Gondor. They face severe difficulties on the mountain pass of Caradhras and then ultimately become trapped within Moria after abandoning the Redhorn Pass and having a skirmish against the Watcher in the Water outside the Doors of Durin. Quite a lot is represented in this quest yet it still manages to do a very good job with this via the Quest Stage effects (especially the first and last stages) and beautiful location and quest card art. To overcome this quest I will have to face plenty of Wargs, including their Chieftain, the Watcher in the Water and the mechanic that is unique to this quest that places damage on locations and boosts their forced effects whenever an enemy engages a player. This mechanic perfectly captures the idea that the fellowship is trying to avoid all conflict and spies during the first few steps of its journey. It places extra importance on the encounter and combat phases and actively rewards you for avoiding engagement with foes. I actually really enjoy this quest as it has great mechanics, a memorable and fun boss battle (that isn’t overly hard either) as well as a mini boss earlier on and some jaw dropping art on many of the locations as well as many of the new nightmare cards.
Even the normal version of this quest features some astounding art on locations as you can see in the slideshow above (some of these are not featured in the Nightmare version).
I also earn Anduril and Glamdring (I do not want/need Sting or Mithril Shirt in my campaign pool as neither is very helpful or useful to my personal play style) at the start of this quest and get to keep them in my decks for the rest of the Campaign! Both are extremely powerful weapon attachments that work incredibly well in my decks. Anduril will go straight into my combat deck and Glamdring will go straight into my questing/support deck.
Glamdring is attached to Legolas whenever possible so that he becomes an even more finely tuned killing machine and also so that when he is killing Orcs he draws me cards as well as placing progress. As powerful as this weapon is this current quest does not feature any Orc enemies so the response on Glamdring does nothing for the time being and it simply provides +2 attack for the current quest. Unlike Glamdring, Anduril is amazing in any quest regardless of whether there are orc enemies or not. I plan to pretty much always attach it to Tactigorn to turn him into a beast of an attacker and defender. Essentially with Anduril attached he can quest with 3 willpower, get readied by Gimli’s ability to then defend against a foe with a decent 3 defence and then thanks to Anduril’s ability he also gets to counter attack that foe (albeit on his own) with 4 attack (more if you have a Dagger on him as well!) and his -1 to enemy defence. So long as you use him against weaker foes he can single handedly both defend and destroy enemies in the same round with ease.
Now my normal strategy for this quest is fairly simple. Move fast and avoid the nastiest/most damaging forced effects on locations and any enemy engagement whenever possible. Direct damage, location control and willpower boosting are all extremely useful for this quest. Essentially if you don’t move fast and get slowed down too much you end up engaging too many enemies which can both overwhelm you in combat as well as allow forced effects on locations to spiral out of control. You can also easily have the staging area get out of hand very easily as there are high threat locations and enemies and if you are specifically avoiding enemy engagement and keeping them in the staging area instead you obviously need high willpower to quest past them or direct damage/staging area attack to destroy them.
Both the fight with the Great Warg Chief well as the Watcher in the Water are both challenging but so long as you have some strong attachments or allies to help with these key moments you can keep a good pace in this quest. The Great Warg Chief can be easily dispatched, especially thanks to the fact he is not immune to player cards, and it is more his effect that brings an additional Warg enemy into play engaged that is the worst part about him as it both helps to overwhelm you with enemies as well as place an additional damage token on the active location. The Watcher is a far more potent boss and is even indestructible so cannot truly be destroyed and is only “beaten” once you explore the Doors of Durin and achieve victory. This can be difficult as the Doors of Durin block themselves from being explored constantly with a continual second active location that has to be cleared before any progress can be placed on the Doors. Essentially it all boils down to: Move fast during this quest! You don’t want to get stuck on the Redhorn Pass at the start or every player could face a ridiculous amount of direct damage thanks to its forced effects, you don’t want to get stuck on Stage 3 which places a damage token on locations whenever they enter play and you certainly don’t want to get stuck unable to clear the Doors of Durin on Stage 4 as not only will the Watcher attack each player every turn regardless of how much damage you deal to it which could easily result in hero deaths but you also instantly lose if the Doors of Durin ever receives 9 or more total damage.
Now that being said as much as you do need to move fast you also need to prepare for the two boss battles so you need to find a balance of speeding through while also adequately preparing for the boss battles. The first “boss”, the Great Warg Chief, as I have already mentioned is not really that nasty so you don’t have to be quite as careful or prepared to face him as you do for the Watcher.
I expect the Nightmare version to be somewhat similar in so far as you need to clear locations quickly before damage tokens pile up on them, need to avoid enemy engagement as much as possible and need to build up forces/prepare properly for both “boss” battles however I think the pacing of how fast I decide to advance between quest stages may be very different and it seems like a fairly good plan to stay on Stage 3 a little longer until you are truly ready for Stage 4. The main reason behind this is the addition of the Pale-green Tentacle enemies that immediately enter play engaged with each player when you advance to Stage 4. These enemies on top of the fact the Watcher attacks each player during combat means the first round of combat when you arrive at Stage 4 is always going to be a doozy. If you have additional Warg enemies in play or more enter play before you can get rid of the Pale-green Tentacles; you can easily be completely overwhelmed and consequently dragged into the depths by the Watcher! Due to this I think that I will need to stall a little a little bit longer than I normally would during the normal version of this quest. Even if I am somewhat punished for sitting at Stage 3 a few extra turns it won’t compare to how smashed I will get if I advance before I am completely prepared.
My other expectations for this Nightmare quest are that it will maximize focus on the forced effects on locations and will provide extra ways for damage to be placed on the active location.
The decks I used against this quest were the ones I posted recently with some minor changes that I made of late as well as a key hero change made for specific Saga reasons that I will explain shortly (I know.. every time I post a Deckbuilding article with new versions of my decks I have already made new changes by the time I publish my next article). The recent changes I made, which were only to the combat deck, was that I replaced the x2 copies of Fornost Bowman with x2 copies of Marksman of Lorien and x1 copy of Beorn with x1 copy of O Lorien.
The hero change is due to the quest after this one in the Saga Campaign. Essentially in the Nightmare version of Journey in the Dark you HAVE to take on and destroy the Balrog to win the quest and you can no longer race through and achieve victory before the Balrog appears. This means it is compulsory and completely necessary that you sacrifice a hero so that you may actually defeat the Balrog in combat to beat the quest. I do not want to sacrifice any of my current heroes and want to keep my line up (and want to earn two other boons and not Beyond all Hope later in the campaign but more on that when we get to it!) so I need to make a hero change now while I can do so without taking a threat penalty so that I have someone expendable to sacrifice to the Balrog during the next quest. Ultimately I decided on Cirdan the Shipwright for this role and honour as he has both high threat (which is very important when sacrificing a hero to the Balrog) and does a very good job of replacing Galadriel’s spot and role in the decks while she is gone (same 4 willpower, same sphere, similar ability in that he provides card draw in a way). At first I actually removed Arwen instead of Galadriel to include Cirdan but after 3 devastating losses I instead chose to keep Arwen in and remove Galadriel instead. This proved to be a far more powerful and efficient line up but more on that below. Overall this whole experience more than anything else opened my eyes to just how integral and important Arwen and her resource boost ability is to my decks. That extra resource during most rounds of a game makes one hell of a huge difference! The changes I made alongside the changes to the hero lineup of the questing/support deck were replacing x2 Daeron’s Runes with x2 Narya when I replaced Arwen with Cirdan and replacing x2 Nenya with x2 Narya when I replaced Galadriel with Cirdan.
Now normally a fair chunk of these articles is about my final victory and how I managed to eventually beat the quest. This quest was hands down the easiest of the Nightmare Saga quests so far by quite a bit and it only took 4 attempts to beat in the end. Due to this and also because I have already talked strategy quite a bit above I am not going to go into too much detail for this particular quest at far as my losses and victory is concerned. Essentially all three of my initial losses were because I advanced to Stage 4 at an awkward moment and got overwhelmed by enemies. As soon as I removed Galadriel instead of Arwen to make room for Cirdan I won the very next game I played. I honestly think that I lost those first three attempts mainly due to the loss of Arwen’s ability in the decks. She is so much more valuable and key to the decks than I realised and without her providing an extra resource on most rounds of the game both decks were not able to play cards anywhere near as fast or efficiently. Without being able to play powerful combat focused allies and attachments as quickly the decks are not able to dispatch enemies anywhere near as fast and they consequently stuck around longer than they normally would. This was the reason I still had Warg enemies in play by the time I advanced to Stage 4 during those three losses and the reason I kept getting overwhelmed. As soon as I swapped to Elrond, Cirdan and Arwen instead of Elrond, Cirdan and Galadriel the decks started to run as smoothly as they normally do and I was easily able to clear all Warg enemies in play before advancing to Stage 4. Hands Upon the Bow and Sneak Attack + Gandalf were extremely helpful in this quest and both allowed me to destroy enemies in staging on multiple occasions which helped to keep damage tokens on locations at a minimum. I also made sure to always travel to locations that have forced effects I can deal with (even if they spiral out of my control) as opposed to ones that would just completely shut me down if they received too much damage before being cleared, I’m looking at you Expanse of Hollin and Eregion!
Here is my final board state for reference:
Now that I have briefly gone over my various games and the key strategy to my eventual win here is each Nightmare card with a breakdown based on my experiences:
(here is a link to the imgur album as well: http://imgur.com/a/HbRXS)
The Nightmare Setup Card for this quest essentially revolves around the new Pale-green Tentacle enemies and their role in the quest. Once you arrive at Stage 4B each player puts a copy of Pale-green Tentacle into play engaged with them, you then shuffle each other copy and the encounter discard pile into the encounter deck. It is actually a fairly big deal that you are forced to also shuffle the encounter discard pile back into the encounter deck. This means any of the awful treacheries, locations or enemies you have already seen have a chance to reappear during any staging step on Stage 4B. If something especially nasty like the Great Warg Chief reappears during Stage 4B you could be in for some very troubling turns indeed. I actually had a few games where I had to face the Warg Chief multiple times, one of which directly because of this Nightmare Setup Card’s effect, and both he and the Watcher together (as well as the buddy the Chief brings along) make for a fearsome assault!
The cards removed from the Nightmare version of this quest strangely do not follow the pattern most Nightmare Quests follow. I personally absolutely hate Snowdrifts and Crebain from Dunland, both are just awful cards to see in this quest and they can quickly slow you down or let the encounter deck spiral out of your control. Usually the more tame and less nasty encounter cards are removed for their nightmare counterparts so I am somewhat shocked that both of these awful cards were removed entirely (both only appear as x2 in the quest regularly) and replaced with cards that function very differently. Even the Howling Warg, which is pretty awful constantly adding more damage to active locations whenever it attacks, is reduced from 3 copies in the deck to a single copy. In the normal version of this quest there are usually an abundance of Howling Wargs adding additional points of damage to active locations whenever I cannot feint them or destroy them with direct damage before they attack. In the Nightmare quest this doesn’t occur making the quest somewhat easier in a way which shocks me further. Hell even a copy of Storm of Howls is removed!
There are admittedly a few encounter cards that are removed that are either fairly harmless or beneficial for the players such as Tree Crowned Hill or Hills of Hollin but overall many of the cards that I personally feel have the most bite and pose the most threat in this scenario are removed in the Nightmare version. The removal of such troublesome cards in the Nightmare version of this quest is definitely a huge factor as to why this quest has been the easiest of the Nightmare Saga quests thus far.
Great Warg Chief is not a Nightmare card and appears in the normal version of the quest but is a very important part of the quest in either mode so I felt that it was necessary to quickly discuss how its role has changed. In the original version of this quest the worst enemy you could see Great Warg Chief put into play engaged with you was a Howling Warg or Hound of Sauron but in the Nightmare version it is far more likely that you will end up engaged with a copy of the fearsome Misty Mountain Warg which has the same 5 attack strength as the Chief himself! Although this does not trigger the when revealed effect on Misty Mountain Warg an additional 5 attack strength enemy being added to play is no joke.
The fact that Great Warg Chief is not set aside at any point during this quest means you can easily see it multiple times within one game and I actually did had to face it multiple times during some of my attempts at this quest including during my victory. Often leaving the Great Warg Chief in play for a few turns and focusing your counter attacks on other foes first is extremely beneficial as the Chief has no real additional effects other than when it first engages you so as long as you can hold off a 5 attack strength enemy it pays off to take out foes with similar attack strength but much lower hitpoints (both Misty Mountain Warg and Hound of Sauron). Also if you are already engaged with the Warg Chief he can’t exactly appear off the top of the encounter deck and trigger his ability again!
Misty Mountain Warg while fearsome with his 5 attack strength, when revealed effect and very decent 3 defense and 4 hitpoints does not place damage tokens on the active location when it attacks like Howling Warg. While beefier the Misty Mountain Warg doesn’t have the urgency that Howling Warg presents, which is of course destroying it before it deals one point of damage too many to active locations leading to your downfall or a serious setback. Misty Mountain Wargs do have a much lower 33 engagement level which means they will engage you long before Howling Wargs would which admittedly could cause problems for certain decks. The Misty Mountain Warg also features the same shadow effect as Howling Warg so that threat is still very real when chump blocking. Overall we get higher stats but less urgency to take the enemy out which honestly to me makes the quest a tiny touch easier rather than more difficult. Player cards such as Aragorn, Rivendell Blade, Steward/Shield combo on Gimli and powerful healing allow me to deal with enemies that have high attack or defense with relative ease and I think its pretty much always easier to deal with a stronger vanilla foe than a slightly weaker foe with an effect that gets worse the longer it stays in play. The art on this foe is incredible even though its quite dark and dreary and I love this very wolf like depiction of Wargs on most of the warg enemies in this quest.
Pale-green Tentacle is the main new mechanic and foe in this Nightmare quest and is a perfect choice as far as I’m concerned. It ironically makes the fight with the Watcher somewhat similar to the fight you can have against it in the quest “The Watcher in the Water” which features a whole multitude of tentacle enemies alongside the Watcher itself.
While Pale-green Tentacle is not the extreme annoyance that tentacle enemies like the Grasping, Striking or Thrashing Tentacle it is still in the same vein and has some painful effects of its own. First and foremost while any copies are in play you cannot deal damage to the Watcher in the Water while in turn means you cannot rescue Frodo and progress through the Doors of Durin to victory. On top of this the Pale-green Tentacle cannot have attachments so traps will not help you against it and finally whenever it attacks and destroys a character it returns back to the staging area stopping you from counter attacking and destroying it and consequently being able to damage the Watcher as well.
Five attack is pretty damn high as well and is at boss levels of attack strength. The one saving grace is that the tentacles are quite easy to dispatch with only 1 armor (0 when facing my combat deck!) and 5 hitpoints.
Hunting Hawk is an interesting replacement for Crebain from Dunland. The Hawk functions very differently and damages allies when they enter play if you don’t exhaust them instead. This can be fairly crippling depending on your play style and I always tried to get the Hawks out of the staging area whenever possible. The four threat is another big incentive to get them out of staging but it is easier said than done. The Hawk cannot be optionally engaged (or have attachments) so until your threat gets to 44 or unless you have engagement shenanigans it will sit in staging. Tactigorn’s ability was crucial when dealing with these foes and allowed me to take them out on occasion before they can attack with their decent 4 attack.
Expanse of Hollin is the first of the new nightmare locations. It’s forced effect is possibly the worst of all the locations and it can easily put several enemies into play if you let too much damage stack up on it. X can get quite high if you can’t deal with foes quickly and is somewhat of a “lose more” effect because you are usually already in trouble if you have too many foes in play so a high threat location is just icing on the cake. I cleared this location as quickly as possible whenever it appeared in my games and pretty much always traveled to it if I was able to.
Slopes of Hithaeglir is the other new Nightmare location and is not quite so bad as Expanse of Hollin but packs a punch of its own. The Slopes punish you for cancelling when revealed effects and at certain points in the quest such as the end when Doors of Durin and a second location are both the active location this can be extremely detrimental and could even threaten to place the final point of damage on the Doors of Durin resulting in an instant loss. The fact that it places damage on active locations even while in staging is the worst part about this location because it can place multiple points of damage on locations before you are able to clear it from play. Some of the non-nightmare locations are somewhat worse than this location (Eregion and Redhorn Foothills) so while it can be pretty nasty it is certainly not a game changer by any means.
Hunted in Hollin presents one hell of a choice, a big increase in threat or you have to not only engage an enemy (placing a point of damage on the active location/s of course!) but also have to reveal an additional encounter card. It also has peril so cannot be cancelled by players who did not reveal it. I tried to raise threat as often as possible but at least once I was forced to engage an enemy and reveal an encounter card instead. Hunted in Hollin is a damn nasty treachery indeed and it is often worthwhile cancelling it when possible.
Shelterless Land is the second treachery and final card included in the Nightmare version of this quest. To me this card replaces and is the nightmare counterpart to Snowdrifts (both treacheries based on the weather/surroundings) which in my mind is a much nastier card.The actual treachery effect on Shelterless Land is not so bad and if you are on top of questing and willpower it can be easily managed but the shadow effect is what truly stings. At least on a few occasions I had this card appear as a shadow effect while an active location had between 3 and 5 damage on it which actually led to a hero loss during one of my games. A big boost to a strong enemy (such as the Great Warg Chief, Watcher, Misty Mountain Wargs or Pale-green Tentacles!) at the wrong time or when your main defender is already badly damaged can easily be a game ender. I took an extremely average photo of this card but the art is really great and shows the entire fellowship making their way through Hollin with the Misty Mountains in the background.
As I already mentioned this quest was easily the least punishing so far in my Nightmare Campaign (obviously exclusing Barrow Downs and The Old Forest) and was actually a nice break from the slogfest that the first three Nightmare Saga Quests provided. This makes lots of sense thematically because you get to rest and plan in Rivendell and are also joined by capable warriors and companions in the form of the fellowship. We do more traveling than anything else in this part of the story first traveling across Hollin, then attempting the Redhorn Pass and finally trekking to the Westgate of Moria so it is also extremely thematic that there is just as much if not more focus on locations and travel (and the nasty forced effects on locations) as there is on the various enemies that are pursuing us.
The addition of the Pale-green Tentacles definitely makes the battle with the Watcher a lot more intense but doesn’t complicate things too much so long as you don’t rely on chump blockers and can take on a few extra mid/high strength enemies late game. The other new enemies are nothing to laugh at but also don’t pose too much of a threat either to stronger decks and some well planned strategy. Honestly more than anything else the new treacheries, new forced effects on locations and to a lesser degree the Nightmare effect that puts the Pale-green Tentacles directly into play engaged with players at Stage 4 are the most worrying new effects or elements of the quest that can easily seal your doom. The shadow effect on Shelterless Land and treachery effect on Hunted in Hollin can both seriously cripple you if they appear at a critical moment. The new locations can be fairly nasty as Expanse of Hollin can allow enemies to swarm out of the encounter deck into play if it is not managed correctly and the Slopes of Hithaeglir punishes you anytime you cancel a treachery effect which may be fairly often in this quest because of cards like Hunted in Hollin, Regiment of Crows, Bitter Cold and Storm of Howls.
Overall it was no walk in the park and certainly still had the feel of a Nightmare quest at times but just did not come close to the difficulty of the prior three Nightmare Saga Quests. I had a lot of fun playing this one and immensely enjoyed that I was more in control and not losing anywhere near as quickly as usual. I’ve earned more boons to help me out with the rest of my Nightmare Campaign and have also hopefully prepared myself well and truly for the battle with the Balrog. If my plan with Cirdan fails I may have to rethink my strategy and re do this Nightmare Quest as well to avoid any starting threat penalties. As much as it is extremely daunting I am quite excited for the next Nightmare Quest even if it is another slogfest as The Ring Goes South has given me that boost and break I needed to deal with what I expect to be an extremely difficult Nightmare Saga Quest.
As always I made sure I achieved a victory in which the least amount of burdens are earned. There is only a single burden that can be earned during this quest: Lust for the Ring, which I managed to avoid as it luckily only showed up as a shadow card during the game I won. I also obviously get to keep Anduril and Glamdring in my decks moving forward.
My current campaign pool is now as follows:
-Mr. Underhill (attached to the Ring-bearer during setup)
-Old Bogey Stories (attached to a hero of the first players choice during setup)
-Ho! Tom Bombadil! (placed in the first players hand during setup)
-Tireless Ranger (attached to Gimli during setup)
-Noble Hero (attached to Elrond during setup)
-Glamdring (shuffled into questing/support deck during setup)
-Anduril (shuffled into combat deck during setup)
-The Ring Draws Them (shuffled into the encounter deck during setup)
-Fear of Discovery (shuffled into the encounter deck during setup)
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that it helps some of you out there considering whether or not to start your own Nightmare Campaign to take the plunge! I am certainly having a really great time so far (even if it is extremely hard and at times quite frustrating) and definitely recommend it for any experienced and patient players of this game. It is far more tense, desperate and thrilling so far and each time I earn a boon I rejoice as they will boost my decks immensely throughout the rest of my campaign. It is going to be quite hard yet possibly very necessary to only use my various one time only boons once the end is in sight or during especially difficult quests. The Nightmare Campaign also seems much more thematic overall so far for some reason. Join me next time for what will be my greatest challenge yet! Taking on and then hopefully taking down the Beast of Shadow and Flame!